CommonCall: From Camo to Calvary

Brian Watson, founder of Outdoor Life Ministries, shares his faith and invites customers to a Bible study that meets at a North Texas outfitter’s store. (David Clanton Photo)

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Outdoor Life Ministries has a single purpose—snaring hearts for Jesus.

Brian Watson served as administrative pastor at Birdville Baptist Church in Fort Worth when he felt God asking him to do something different.

camo guy350Brian Watson uses his love of the outdoors to share the gospel with other men who similarly enjoy hunting, fishing and outdoor life. (David Clanton Photo)“God basically said, ‘Brian, get outside the box.’ There’s nothing wrong with the box—the traditional church. I say we’re in cahoots with the traditional church. We’re in this together,” Watson explained. “We tell people we’re going to help them grow, and we do. We send a lot of people back into regular churches after we disciple them to teach and minister and bring their families up in the Lord.”

With God’s admonition to “get out of the box,” he also provided a guiding Scripture verse: “I must be all things to all men so that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Guided by that spiritual North Star, Outdoor Life Ministries started its first preaching point at an outfitters’ store in Fort Worth in February 2011. Ten men from Birdville Baptist Church who also loved the outdoors helped launch the mission.

The church began at the same time an ice storm hit North Texas.

“I would go outside and ask the big four-by-four trucks how the roads were. I knew how the roads were, but then I would get the opportunity to talk to them about coming and being a part” of the new congregation, he explained.

“If you are anywhere near me and you are in a big truck or camo, you’re a target.”

Mostly unchurched

It wasn’t long until Watson saw new faces at church.

“Ninety-five percent of the people we are reaching are unchurched or used to be in church but are not anymore. They most likely don’t know much about the Bible when they come. A lot of guys didn’t know any of the Bible stories whatsoever,” he said.

outdoor life study425An Outdoor Life Ministries Thursday night Bible study (Image from Outdoor Life Facebook page)As those men grow in biblical knowledge and see God walk with them through the trials in their lives, they use their experiences to reach others, Watson said.

Outdoor Life has expanded its number of locations and times. They include workplace Bible studies during lunch hours, as well as Bible studies in other stores that supply hunters, fishermen and people who enjoy the outdoors.

In addition to four North Fort Worth locations, others meet in Allen, Plano, Grapevine and Keller, as well as Lake Lavon Baptist Encampment, and a Spanish-speaking Outdoor Life group meets in Saginaw. A cowboy church also is part of the ministry and is the only Bible study to meet on Sunday.

Watson, who served in traditional churches 27 years, remains convinced he is doing what God willed him to do.

“This is not a job. I am a church starter and a pastor, but it’s not a job I needed to apply for—it’s who I am,” he said.

outdoor life logo240The increase in the number of locations required a corresponding expansion of leadership.

“We have a number of pastors now. People are waiting in line to speak, and God raised these people up. Very few of them did I even know when we were starting this, but God has raised them up to be pastors,” he said.

Bonfires for the Lord

“I’m not bragging on us, but bragging on the Lord. He’s using these people to minister, to touch, to transform. We don’t need kudos. We don’t need pats on the back. We get to watch lives transform—absolutely, completely transform. They become bonfires for the Lord because you can see them and feel them from a ways away.

Watson generally preaches in camo and jeans—or, when it’s warm, shorts.

“We’re trying to reach everybody. As soon as I put on something nicer than what they have, I now have a barrier,” he explained.

They also work hard not to be judgmental about the flaws they see.

“We strive not to have any critical spirit in us. I’m not saying we’re tolerant of sin—we call sin out. We don’t say it in a way of being critical. We say it in a way of being protective of their hearts. If we don’t look out for one another, Satan will surely look out after us,” Watson said.

In this battle together

“We’re in this battle together. We’re privileged to see God working and moving, but we also see Satan move because where God is moving, Satan is not happy.

“Everything we do is life-applicable. What good does it do you to have knowledge of the word without putting it into action? The word of God is alive, and it is life, and we reveal that to them.”

Some of the meetings have music, and others do not, but all are informal. Interruptions during preaching and teaching are encouraged. “If they leave without understanding, we have failed,” Watson pointed out.

He acknowledges a difference in his congregation.

“We have fun. We joke. We’re men. We have women, too, but the men are men. About half the disciples were fishermen. Do you think they were clean-cut yachtsmen? No. They were as rough as can be. As you become disciples and you spend time with the Lord, your life cleans up,” Watson said.

Hispanic outreach

German Lopez rose to leadership in the Outdoor Life movement. Watson mentored him at Birdville Baptist Church before Lopez went back to live in Mexico a few years. When Lopez returned to Fort Worth, he went to the church to find Watson but learned he is involved in the new ministry.

Soon, he began working closely alongside Watson.

hunting guys425While he always enjoyed fishing and was a gun enthusiast, Lopez acknowledged he started hunting only after linking up with Watson. He now regularly preaches on Tuesdays in English and on Fridays in Spanish and also fills in as needed.

He also is working to get an expansion of the ministry up and running. In March, Outdoor Life began transmitting Lopez’s Spanish sermons to West Palm Beach, Fla,, and to five churches in Honduras.

The principles of his sermons are the same, he said, but he switches out the hunting terms and illustrations for ones more applicable to a wider audience.

“God gives us the words to make it understandable,” he said.

Not confined to outdoorsmen

Lopez doesn’t see the ministry as confined only to hunters and outdoorsmen.

“The Lord went out and got involved in people’s lives. He went to the marketplaces. He went to the coves where they were fishing. He went everywhere the people went and preached the gospel. That’s what the Lord has this ministry doing—going to lives of people, to whatever passion they may have and start a Bible study there and put the truth before them, and watch God transform their lives,” Lopez said.

Watson seeks not so much to guide the ministry as to ride it to wherever God leads.

“People ask me, ‘What’s your five-year plan, Brian?’ I tell them, ‘We’re probably going to be doing what we did yesterday—listen to the Lord and be obedient.’”

This article originated in the June issue of CommonCall, Baptist Standard Publishing’s monthly magazine. CommonCall features inspiring stories about Christians living out their faith and informative articles about ministries that actually work. An annual subscription is only $24 and comes with two complementary subscriptions to the Baptist Standard. To subscribe to CommonCall, click here.

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